Ask The Pharmacist: Finding the cause of migraine headaches

Question: I’ve had migraine headaches for 11 years and live on triptan drugs and ibuprofen. There must be something else I can do. Please lend some sensible “Suzy” insight, I’m desperate. J.C., Tuscon, Arizona

Answer: The sensible thing for me to do is help you determine the cause of your headaches, rather than list supplements you’ve probably already tried. Migraines can steal the joy from your life, making you nauseous and sensitive to sounds, perfume and light, not to mention the pain! There are 50 other symptoms too.

Even though your odds increase if a family member has migraines, I still think you can overcome them if you know the cause, that’s the hardest part. Women are three times more likely to get migraines, compared to men, which speaks to an estrogen connection. A sudden drop in estrogen (like at the beginning of your natural cycle or when coming off “the pill” for a week) can trigger a headache.

Food sensitivities are common triggers so I’d avoid foods that contain gluten, wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, processed cold-cuts, wine, sulfites and chocolate. Give it three months to be fair. Avoid food additives at all costs, such as artificial colors, sweeteners or MSG. Don’t freak, it’s not that hard to do if you choose to eat nothing from a box or can.

Have you considered nutritional deficiencies? Magnesium deficiency is a common cause for headaches, depression, cramps and body aches. For the complete list of medications that rob you, refer to my book “Drug Muggers.”

How crazy would you think I was if I told you that H. pylori (the same bug associated with ulcers) is tied to migraines? A randomized, double-blind placebo controlled study proved it in 2012, and that was not the first study tethering bacteria, parasites, worms and viruses to migraines.

Experts cannot agree on why migraines occur. Some think there are arterial changes which create more blood flow to the head. Drugs like Imitrex, Zomig, and Maxalt work by constricting blood vessels and should be taken immediately. Medicine won’t prevent future attacks, that’s why I stress the importance of finding the triggers. Speaking of stress, minimize it.

Other experts including myself, think migraines have more to do with mitochondrial (mito) dysfunction and pain-causing cytokines than with inflamed blood vessels. Your mito are energy generators and normally pump out ATP (energy molecule) but something goes awry.

Restoring mito health and reducing cytokines should become every migraine sufferer’s goal. Eradication of infection can help while supplements that support mito health are critical. CoQ10 (or ubiquinol) is among the best. A 2002 study (Cephalalgia) concluded that 61 percent of participants found at least a 50 percent reduction in the frequency of migraine attacks over 4 months with CoQ10. Migraineurs could also benefit tremendously from magnesium, riboflavin and lipoic acid. Wrap your head around this type of thinking because my new ideas might help you reach your ultimate goal, a pain free life!

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Always consult your physician. Visit

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